A Cautious Hand of Friendship: Rep. Curt Weldon Wants the Bush Administration to Engage Russia and China without Losing Sight of How Each Decision Ultimately Could Affect National Security. (Picture Profile)

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Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) may be the nation's leading champion of U.S. missile defense, but that is just one of the issues to which he pays close attention. He speaks Russian and calls himself the biggest friend Russia has in the House of Representatives, but Weldon also is Moscow's biggest critic. He is trusted on Russian issues even by House Democrats who oppose his proposals for U.S. missile defense. In 2001 Weldon prepared a key document. "U.S.-Russia Partnership--A New Time, A New Beginning," which was signed by more than 100 members of Congress. The Russian side used it as a starting point in ongoing negotiations with the Bush administration.

Insight: Rep. Weldon, how do you rate the Bush administration's effort to fix U.S. intelligence problems?

Curt Weldon: The single biggest failure of our government in all history, in my opinion, was the intelligence failure prior to 9/11. As far back as 1998, and again in 1999 and 2000, we in the House put language in the defense bill to create a center for coordinating intelligence on terrorism. The FBI and CIA resisted that effort.

The plan to develop a national operations and analysis hub is well-defined and the technology is at hand. We're now making progress, but we've not moved quickly enough to put into place the kind of coordinated, collaborative approach necessary to involve all 33 federal agencies. I think the situation is not going to change until the president weighs in personally and says, "You will do this!", Otherwise, it is one agency against another.

We're talking about sharing raw data, through massive data-mining, so that we can have analysts look at what may be about to occur, what may be in the planning stage. That capability still does not exist at the level and scope that we've been asking for during the last five years, and to me that's very troubling.

Insight: Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin agreed to substantial cuts in strategic nuclear forces. Was that a good idea?

CW: This president [Bush] is a man of character, and I don't think he would do anything that wasn't in our best interest. Even so, we have to be careful because those strategic weapons are not just to protect us from a Russian threat. Down the road they may be important for other threats that are only now beginning to emerge.

Certainly the steps the president took have changed the dynamics between us and Russia. President Putin has made some very bold moves that have angered hardliners in his country. Two months ago a full-page ad was run in one of Moscow's largest newspapers by 41 former Soviet generals and admirals, including two former defense ministers, criticizing Putin for having moved too close to the U.S. and the West.

I would encourage President Bush to reach out and find ways to deal with Russia. But our decision has to be based on a single criterion: the national security of the people of the United States.

Under [Bill] Clinton we pretended for eight years that proliferation wasn't occurring. We pretended [Russian then-President Boris] Yeltsin wasn't allowing billions of dollars to be stolen. We pretended there wasn't corruption in the oligarchy. I carry around the evidence with me when I give speeches on violations that Clinton knew about but did not properly enforce. The facts are that we knew billions of dollars were being stolen that were supposed to go to help Russia build a new society with IMF [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank money.

The Russian people aren't stupid. They saw us pretend that things weren't what they are. And they saw us failing to hold Yeltsin accountable for what we knew was occurring. We can't ever let that happen again. We did it with the Shah of Iran. We did it with Saddam Hussein. Our foreign policy needs to be based on candor and toughness. We will succeed when we do that, whether it's with Russia or, eventually, with the fall of communism in China. …

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